[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: Daniel Attias | Aired: 11/21/2000]
While “Shadow” is no “Fool for Love” [5×07] , it is still a solid episode that moves character and plot threads forward in a compelling way. We’ve got Riley’s continued lack of emotional connection with Buffy and increasing isolation, Glory’s hunt for the Key, Joyce’s brain tumor, and Spike’s continued infatuation with everything Buffy. Nothing major really happens here and the pacing is a bit on the slow side occasionally, but otherwise I feel this episode succeeds at its goals.
I think I’ll start off with Glory, or more specifically her minions. The elaborate way they praise her in their wordage is extremely entertaining. It’s important to note that while this minion, Dregg, is explaining he got this rare and old incantation, all Glory cares about is how her ankle looks with a certain pair of shoes on. When she tosses the shoe off her foot and into the minion’s head he amusingly says, “Ow! Thank you.” It’s obvious here more than ever that Glory’s biggest weaknesses are her obsession with herself and her utter stupidity. These two things playing hand-in-hand, along with the fact she’s sharing a body with Ben, work to counteract her incredible strength which is why she is never able to do all that much damage. If she’d just get over herself and do everything herself she’d be much more formidable. She’s very impatient too: “everything takes time! What about my time?! Does anyone appreciate that I’m on a schedule here?” I think at this point Glory’s a unique blend of weirdness that BtVS hasn’t seen before, and I like it. I’m amazed I even felt a tiny bit sad for her when she was looking out her window, all lonesome, for the cobra demon to return.
While all the drama at the hospital takes place, Spike gets caught by Riley in Buffy’s room, smelling her clothes. It’s amazing really just how good Spike is at deflecting a conversation on him to the other person. Riley says, “what are you doing here?” Spike replies, “What, me? I was um … uh … what are you doing here?” He then freely admits he smelled her sweater, but slyly calls it a “predator thing.” That he’s “wetting the appetite for the hunt.” Then he hilariously sticks his head into her sweater and starts smelling it strongly, twice. Riley’s had enough and finally throws him out, but not before Spike amusingly snags some Buffy panties. I really don’t feel I need to think about what he’s going to do with those!
Anyway, downstairs Spike gives Riley the lowdown on Buffy’s feelings towards him, although he leaves out just enough details to make it look like something it is very much, well, not. Spike gets a whole lot of juicy attacks on Riley here, like “Your girl in the habit of buying her enemies drinks? ‘Cause she spent the better part of last night with me, doing just that.” Riley scoffs and Spike continues, “Twice in recent memory, she’s had the lover-wiccas do a deinvite on the house. Keep out specific vamps. Ever ask yourself why she’s never taken my name off the guest list?” Responding, Riley claims that it’s “because you’re harmless.” This is when Spike really brings it home: “Oh yeah, right. (scoffs) Takes one to know, I suppose. Least I still got the attitude. What do you got, a piercing glance? Face it, white bread. Buffy’s got a type, and you’re not it. She likes us dangerous, rough, occasionally bumpy in the forehead region. (patronizingly) Not that she doesn’t like you, but sorry Charlie, you’re just not dark enough.” It’s interesting that Buffy also didn’t tell Riley about being at the hospital with her mom.
To add even more salt to Riley’s wounds, there’s the adorable scene between Riley and Dawn at the carousel. While Riley appreciates it when Dawn thanks him for being there with her, her rambling about Angel turns out to make him feel worse again. Dawn points out that Buffy doesn’t cry as much around Riley as she did with Angel and that she “doesn’t get all worked up like that over you.” I can understand why Riley sees this as a bad thing. He views it as meaning Buffy simply isn’t as invested in him as she was with Angel. All of this evidence combined with his recent relationship frustrations obviously convince Riley that maybe Spike has a point. What Riley is completely missing in all of this is that Buffy really does like who he is. Sure she’s drawn to the darkness a bit because of her slayer nature, but that doesn’t mean she outright wants a vampire. Riley is expecting more from their relationship than it is right now, and I think he really fails to realise this.
Xander calls Riley on his risky behavior in “Fool for Love” [5×07] in a “I really want to help you” way, but it unfortunately doesn’t stop him from letting Sandy get some vamp action on him. It’s pretty obvious that Riley is now, at least somewhat, convinced that Buffy really does want darkness in her man, and so here he tests the waters to see what it’s like; to try to find out what the draw is. I sympathise with Riley, I really do, but I can’t help but feel he’s acting really childishly in the way he’s expressing his frustrations. This is made all the more clear when he actually looks offended when Buffy doesn’t break down in front of him at the hospital and even more so later when Joyce calls her in and he looks all pouty. I really feel Buffy’s only fault, at least during her mom’s crisis, is not using basic kind mannerisms like “excuse me” and “thank you for all your help” to Riley. I feel the need to give props to more wonderful acting from SMG, with those painful-to-see watery eyes and expressions in a lot of these doctor/Riley scenes.
Although Riley gets plenty of attention here, the core of the episode surrounds Joyce’s hospital visit and Buffy’s reactions to dealing with a crisis she can’t fix. Joyce tells Buffy that the doctors found something in her cat scan. This is a moving little scene with Joyce even getting a little weepy. Buffy’s holding her cool here surprisingly well. When the doctor later tells her that her mom has a brain tumor, though, SMG shows us some wonderfully subtle acting as we see Buffy get that powerfully expressive scared/sad/shocked blend on her face. A more extreme version of that same look arrives again when the doctor explains “nearly one out of three patients with this condition does just fine.”
Wow this is really sad stuff, and Buffy can’t do a thing about it; she’s completely helpless. This is more difficult than usual for her because instead of having an outlet for her emotions (as in, an enemy), she is forced to feel these waves of awful emotions. It’s hard for her to hear, but Riley’s correct when he says, “people get sick. I don’t think magic…” This is why when Buffy hears of the cobra demon she wants to run out and fight it immediately. It finally gives her a tangible outlet to take her mind off her mom’s illness. It’s great to see that Xander picks up on this as well when he tells Riley, “Buffy needs something she can fight, something she can solve.”
The only real problems with this episode lie with its bad special effects and occasionally slow pace. In particular, the cobra demon is really lacking in scariness and believability; they just did a bad job on this one. The CGI Buffy riding the back of the demon somehow manages to be even more ridiculous-looking than the demon itself. It’s rare I say something looked awful on this series, but that brief bit of CGI really did. Those problems aside, this is an arc episode that addresses several necessary developing character themes in a fairly solid way; a good, but not great, episode.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy and Dawn’s continued closeness established in “No Place Like Home” [5×05] .
+ The little things: Giles excited about his new ad in the Yellow Pages, Tara telling him his tagline is hard to read, and Anya straightening objects on her way into the shop.
+ It is really quite entertaining how Glory buys some items at the Magic Box and interacts with Giles so amicably. I love Anya’s increasingly louder ‘heys’ when she finds out about the items sold.
+ It’s nice to see the main villain actively trying to achieve her goal this early in the season.
+ Buffy describing the cobra demon as “not Mayor big.” This kind of continuity is also useful to the plot, very cool.
* All of Riley’s frustrations are obviously leading to something, and we all know in retrospect its his departure in “Into the Woods” [5×10].